Work In Progress: June 2021

My current cross stitch work-in-progress is from a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my favorite artists. I admire the way she looks deeply into a flower. She finds so much to be seen and reveals it so intimately. This one is “Red Canna.” As you can see from the imprint on the fabric, at this stage of the project, I’m using a round hoop. The (removable) tapes key the penciled grid spaces.




Here is a print of O’Keeffe’s original painting.

The chart I’m using simplifies the work somewhat but preserves enough of it to make me happy. I’m enjoying working with the bright colors, although I have to say that no thread color is quite as vibrant as O’Keeffe’s work. Other than that, I’m happy with the project.





Eye surgery. I use a very bright magnifying lamp for needlework, but even so, I’d been having some eye issues that were clouding (so to speak) my enjoyment. Off to the eye doc I went: diagnosis, cataracts. Quite natural, I’m told, especially for people who have spent a lot of time outdoors, as I have. The lens in my right eye was replaced a few weeks ago. I’m delighted to report that the surgery went well, the new lens is a big success. At  distance, I can see better without my glasses than with them. I’ll have the other lens replaced in September.

On the writing desk. Hemlock (China Bayles #28) went off to the printer last week. It’s scheduled for publication the first week of September. Please tell your librarian that it’s on the way, It’s available in hardcover for libraries; paperback, hardcover, ebook, and audio for everybody else. I have a new cover artist–love the cover she produced for this book.

I’m working on the last couple of chapters of a new Dahlias project, The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker. It’s set in 1935, which turns out to be a pivotal year in many ways. I’m always struck by the similarity between the Depression era and our own times: 1935 holds many startling (even scary) parallels–especially in politics. You should have this book in April or May 2022.

As I wrap up a writing project, I always start thinking about the next one. There are  usually a dozen possibilities and choosing where to put my energies next makes for some interesting explorations. I’ve just finished reading The Life She Wished to Live, the new (and truly excellent) biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, by Ann McCutchen. For years, I’ve thought about writing a novel about Rawlings (the author of The Yearling). But there wasn’t a fully reliable biography about her on which I could base fiction–and now there is. (If I’m writing about a real person, I want to make the fiction real.) As some of you know, I’ve also thought long about Georgia O’Keeffe, especially about that wonderful house in Abiquiu, which was such an important part of her life. And there’s a possible spinoff from the research I did on Elizabeth Blackwell, the 18th-century herbalist who is a central character in Hemlock and whose life is such a tantalizing mystery.

Lots of possibilities, all interesting, each quite different and exciting in its own way. It’s hard to choose where to put energy and time. But that’s what keeps us moving forward, isn’t it? Choosing where to spend our time (always limited, often in ways we don’t anticipate) and our creative passion (limited too, by forces outside of our control).

Where to go next? What to choose? What do I love enough to spend time–months, a year, more–and energy with it? Big questions. Big choice.

Reading note. When you make a choice, you change the future.Deepak Chopra

35 comments on “Work In Progress: June 2021

  1. I was thrilled when I had cataract surgery in 2013 at age 61, and could see w/o glasses for the first time in decades. I can see fine, and read (big bonus) without them, still, but I do need glasses for driving, for the distance. It is wonderful, so great not to have glasses weighing me down and making a groove on my nose and behind my ears.

  2. So glad your eye surgery went well! Your next cross stitch project is going to be beautiful and I can’t wait for the next dahlias book to come out. I absolutely love that series!

  3. I have enjoyed some of your herbal books. is it necessary to read them in order of print date?
    I also had cataract surgery about 5 years ago. I had no idea I needed it at the time. Made a huge difference. And Yes, the cheaper readers are a bonus. I have also found sunglasses with readers in them, which I love, especially when yard sailing. I also do needlepoint. It is a great stress reliever. I had not heard of Elizabeth Blackwell. Thanks for the introduction.

  4. Yes, I’ve been to the museum and the Abiquiu house several times–before Covid.

  5. If you haven’t you should visit Santa Fe NM and the O’keefe museum but I was disappointed that her paintings were all out to other museums. Her home and gardens are still there and being kept up. A very pleasant visit

  6. Elizabeth Blackwell from the 1700s, correct? Not Elizabeth Blackwell the doctor. The doctor graduated from Geneva Medical College in Geneva, NY my home town. Just finished “Loving Eleanor” and emjoyed it very much. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for your reply! I appreciate your response and had no idea that you published your books yourself. Although I buy the Darkling Dahlias in hardback, I buy other books in paperback, so I thank you for stepping up against your publisher’s decision, especially as I am not a fan of reading book digitally. But no matter the cover art, I very much enjoy your books and love seeing them on my shelves! Thank you!

  8. Waiting eagerly for the books and hope you will add on to your Trilogy soon💯 Your needle point is so beautiful 🆒 Have a Wonderful Summer🙏

  9. I always look forward to reading about China and her friends–can’t hardly wait for Hemlock. I tell booklovers who garden that the China Bayles series combines excellent writing, exciting story lines and interesting gardening facts. I also always enjoy seeing your latest needlework project. The Red Canna is beautiful.

  10. Georgia O’Keeffe, I have read her biography. I have a print of hers which I had framed. The flower is very dark violet yet has some pink and blue around it. It looks like a petunia to me?!

  11. For real. They told me to take my phone to the drugstore, and try the different magnifications until I found the sharpest for the distance and font size.
    And you can buy several! And have a pair waiting anywhere you might want them. I do keep one higher-magnification pair with the knitting.
    My grandmother had cataract surgery about 1960, and had to lie with her head sandbagged for a couple of weeks. It’s hard to believe that much progress in that amount of time.

  12. A few years ago the NCMA in Raleigh featured an exhibit of O’Keefe’s work and life. Nothing beats seeing an artist work in real life! I would love to read a book by you about her too. Your work has provided me with so much joy. As an RN working in multiple specialty disciplines, I could escape the harsh realities of my job in your books! Eagerly awaiting the new China book! Thank you!


  13. I adore Georgia Okeefe and her flower pictures. Oh by the way I adore you and your books too. I can’t wait for the red hot poker. I know it’s going to be sizzling!

  14. Wow. Really? $3 readers? As soon as the left eye gets its new lens, that’s where I’m headed. And yes, I also notice the difference in colors: bright whites especially. I’m smiling at your description of looking at that bright blue sky when you should have been post-op orders 🙂

  15. Thank you for sharing your decision making process. I’ve enjoyed all of your series, but the Beatrix Potter Cottage Tales have a special place in my heart. Since that was a limited series, it makes me appreciate the ongoing China Bayles series even more. There are always more herbs to explore!

  16. If a series has a strong “arc,” you might be missing some elements of the story if you don’t read the books in order. But for most series (especially the very long ones), I honestly don’t think it matters a lot. And every book ought to be able to stand alone, so all you’re missing is some context. China and I are glad to be on your TBR list!

  17. I can’t wait for Hemlock.
    So glad you’ve had cataract surgery–I had both eyes done in 2015, about 5 years after I should have. What I noticed–and loved–the most was how bright and beautiful everything was. After the first eye I spent lots of time closing and opening them alternately to enjoy the contrast between gray-yellow fog and real, vibrant color. Seriously, I barely heard the post-op instructions because I couldn’t take my eye off the blue sky seen through the window.
    And being able to use $3 drugstore readers instead of $400 prescription glasses was a bonus.
    Love the cross stitch. I’m a knitter myself.

  18. Just can’t get enough of the Darling Dahlias. They are the greatest bunch of folks. Interesting to read how they struggled through the depression.

  19. Susan, I am always amazed by your energy! Love your historical fiction and China Bayles series, including Ruby! I do something that makes my friends crazy, start series wherever, then try to fill in moving to older books, but then seeing a new release skipping forward again. I rotate through authors picking things up randomly. Since you keep writing new books you are always on my to read list! Just keep writing!

  20. Manda, that’s a good question. I changed the cover style when I began publishing the books myself (with Book 7). (The previous publisher wanted to publish in hardcover and ebook only, not paperback.) I know the town on those previous covers is pretty but it doesn’t much resemble the Darling pictured in the book. And no, I wasn’t involved in the design of those six original covers. I saw the first cover when I saw the bound galley. Even if I’d tried to object, it would have been too late in the process.

    In the Dahlias’ series, I continually juggle the competing challenges of writing a historical novel (my preference) and a mystery that softens the criminal elements (often called a “cozy”). When I assumed the books’ publication, I opted to remove the “cozy” elements from the covers.

    Not the answer you were looking for, maybe–but thanks for asking!

  21. I would enjoy a novel about Ms. Rawlings. I grew up near her homestead in Florida and still have family nearby. I have fond memories of her writing studying her work in the 60s. Her home is always a wonderful visit.

  22. I just finshied the Darling Dahlias and the Poinsettia Puzzle geting ready to start the China Bayles series our library has a lot of them and now we can go in longer then half an hour I can look at them Thank you

  23. I’ll gladly read any book you write/any story you care to tell, but I’d sure like to see a tale about Georgia O’Keefe!

  24. I am working my way through the China Bayles series and am caught up with the Darling Dahlias series. Your comment about a new cover artist for Hemlock leads me to wonder about the change in cover styles for the Darling Dahlias series. I always thought the book jackets for the first six books in the series were perfect with the pastel background and lovely illustrations of the “title” flower and the town of Darling. However, the seventh book (The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover) saw a switch to stark more modern cover that really doesn’t match the gentle tone of the books. How are book covers decided? Are authors involved in the decision-making process?

  25. Ambitious project! I, too, love to cross stitch but had to put my scene from Paris away until my cataract surgery this fall because of all the dark colors. Yours is going to be beautiful. Love Georgia O’Keeffe!

  26. Your new needlework is already gorgeous. Adding to Jo’s vote for a Georgia O’Keefe novel set in Abiquiu. I assume you’ve been there? Since I have and have yet to find a satisfying novel about O’Keefe think it’s a wonderful idea.

  27. I just finished A Plain Vanilla Murder. It took me about a year to read all 27 books. I am anxiously awaiting Hemlock!

  28. Your needlework is so lovely. I will be visiting the eye doctor in September myself. As a “youngun” of 64, I have had to self pay insurance for the past five years. Once I am on Medicare, my cataract surgery is a covered expense. Not so sure I want to see what’s in the mirror. I am pretty sure I look better cloudy.

  29. Susan

    I love your books, and especially the China Bayles series and all the characters in the series.
    As far as the possible projects you mentioned, my personal vote would be for a novel about Georgia O’Keefe. Your other possible projects all sound intriguing and I am sure I would enjoy any and all of them.

    Jo Ben

  30. I’m so glad to know I’ll be able to take Hemlock with me when I travel from Budapest to Bucharest (Viking) in mid-September. Although I’ve been happy to read the books that focus on Ruby or Jessica, it’s China whom I love like a sister!

    Thank you for not giving up on writing to do cross-stitch full-time!

  31. As I read this post with my left eye closed, I can share your experience of cloudy vision. Yes, it’s time to have the cataract removed.When I retired from my career as a mathematics professor, I never thought I would have creative energy in another direction. I revisited an interest from many years earlier and started to paint in watercolor. This has become my passion. And hopefully I will be able to return to another passion after cataract surgery – reading.

  32. Two comments….I do needlepoint because I am “cross stitch dysfunctional” – it is beautiful. I am so excited about HEMLOCK. I have read every one of your books!

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